New study shows no increase in new voters

By Elizabeth Ballinger

Thirteen percent of registered voters say they will be voting for the first time this election season, according to a recent Gallup poll. This number shows no increase in proportion of first-time voters since 2004.

This number may be surprising, wrote Jeffrey Jones, author of the Gallup report, after early speculation that Obama’s appeal to young people would result in higher numbers of first-time voters. Although 62 percent of first time voters age 18-29 say they will be voting for Obama, the statistical impact of their age group’s preference may be limited by low voter registration numbers: only 78 percent of people age 18-29 are self-reported as registered voters, the lowest of any age group.

“Until young people start voting in larger numbers, candidates won’t appeal to their causes,” said Aslam Khan, director of BCC’s Political Science Division.

For politicians to appeal to their interests, said Khan, voting-age youth must organize together, lobby for issues that affect them, and more than anything, go to the polls.

The implication of no growth in young voter statistics on current political campaigns, however, may not be as dismal as the number implies.

“This may still reflect an impressive influx of new voters this year,” wrote Jeffrey Jones in the Gallup Report.

While not increasing, the proportion maintains a 10 point increase in first-time voters over elections previous to 2004.

A now smaller pool of potential first-time voters may also be the cause of the number’s lack of growth, according to Jones.

“If we’ve maintained a 10 point increase over history, I think we’re doing pretty good overall,” said Political Science instructor Denise Vaughan.

Gallup reported that historically low youth voting may be in part because young people are more mobile, less likely to keep a permanent residence, and less connected to the political system.

With complicated ballot language, lack of clarity about the voting process, and candidates who target the over-50 population, Vaughan said the political process is not geared toward young people, especially students.

“Not much seems to make a difference usually,” said BCC student Giannon Goldhagen, who was in the military during the 2004 election. “Last time, I just didn’t have time to vote.”

Despite being of voting age in previous presidential elections, Goldhagen said he is voting for the first time Nov. 4 to keep one of the candidates out of the White House.

“I don’t believe any issues addressed by current political candidates have any particular appeal to young voters,” said Vaughan. Choosing not to vote due to apathy or skepticism about government is considered fashionable among some youth, she said, and to others, uncertainty of belief may make it difficult for them to decide on a candidate or a position.

“Students are socialized at home to believe in one system of thought,” said Vaughan. “Then they get to college and are influenced by several new factors to believe either in a different system, or the same system but for completely different reasons.”

Gallup reports that 67 percent of age 18-29 voters report having “given a lot of thought” to the 2008 election, compared to 84 percent of age 50-64 voters.

While working out their general belief system, students can still pick and choose what ballot items they have enough information and strong enough opinions to vote on and which they wish to skip, said Vaughan.

BCC student Scott Shaffer is in the military, and said he is voting because the next president of the United States will have a huge impact on the quality and safety of his experience serving abroad.

Kathleen Smith, a BCC student, is planning on voting for the first time Tuesday.

She said she isn’t sure she had the same attitude in previous elections, but it would be a shame not to vote now.

“This is a historic election,” said Smith.

Although the new-voter registration of BCC students is lower than the 2004 election round, interest in voting is promoted on campus by several factions. The ASG, the legislative committee, local Obama campaign volunteers and the Washington Bus organization have all run initiatives and events on campus.